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Men are happiest when women bring in 40% of household income, study finds

They say the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but recent findings show that the man of the household is happier when the pressure to be a breadwinner is taken off his shoulders.

Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University of Bath’s School of Management, published the study of Spousal Relative Income and Male Psychological Distress and data of over 6,000 U.S. homes spanning 14 years.

Happy at the workplace.


The longitudinal research evaluated couples through questions to measure distress in relation to negative emotions. Participating men reported a higher level of psychological distress when they were the family’s sole breadwinners. The participants either felt sad, nervous, restless, worthless, hopeless, or suggests that everything “feels like an effort.”

What surprised the Syrda was how the distress experienced by men was significantly lessened as their wives began to earn money. The point where the participants felt the happiest is when their spouse made 40% of the household’s total income.

However, men’s psychological distress makes a comeback as their wives in the workplace start to outpace their income capacity. Syrda found out that the highest level of psychological distress was experienced when men became economically dependent on their wives.



The only [outlier] was for couples who, when they were getting married, the wife was already making half or more than half of the total income,” Sydra said in an interview with Good Morning America.

Results also show gender stereotypes in the workplace in the division of labor for husbands and wives outside of the household, not to mention the gender pay gap.

The latest data from the Department of Labor show that almost 47 percent of workers are women. Despite having a nearly equal number in the workplace as men, some women still earn 20 percent less compared to their male coworkers.


“In the 1980s, in maybe 10 percent of households the women made more than their husband, and now it’s basically one in three of American households where the women make the same amount of money or more,” Syrda said. She also noted how this change of trend in the home and workplace result in a favorable outcome—gender norms are slowing things down.

Syrda also said that the more prevalent it is for the partners to make similar amounts of money or higher, the more it will move the gender norm. It is also worth noting how women as breadwinners is a relatively new phenomenon. Her findings show how perpetuating gender norms can be detrimental to a woman’s career and a man’s mental health.


“This chronic condition if [the wife] earns more than him and that can cause chronic stress,” Syrda added.

Syrda explains how men are pressured by the social convention to be the “male breadwinner,” which had been “highly durable in the past.” “For generations, in many cultures, there has been an expectation that men will be the primary income provider in the family, and masculinity is linked to fulfilling this expectation,” she added.

Ultimately, couples who talk more about their careers, ambitions, and those who share goals with each other are less susceptible to the said psychological distress.

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